Colombian Coconut Rice

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When my husband and I were visiting our daughter a while back, she told us she was going to be vacationing in Colombia. My first reaction was, “Oh, Columbia in South Carolina?”

I should have known better. This is the kid who’s already been to Argentina, Hungary, Croatia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Australia – 6 countries we hadn’t been to yet.

Our immediate thoughts were of course of drug cartels and kidnappers, but she assured us that the old part of Cartagena, where she’d be staying, was safe.

Well, she went, and she came back alive. But not without first texting me a recipe while in Cartagena for coconut rice that she fell in love with there. And she sent me a coconut rice recipe that she found online.

The recipe is from Serious Eats, and it’s actually called Colombian Coconut Rice, although the author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, claims that this rice is popular throughout a significant area in South America.

As Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and James Beard award winner, he definitely knows his stuff. Full bio below.

He writes, “At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it’s a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.”

The only issue is if the coconut milk used in the recipe has stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you’ll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the rice to brown.

So I set out to find coconut milk without stabilizers and preservatives. Not an easy task. Finally, I found coconut milk at Trader Joe’s, with only coconut milk and water as ingredients. After many stores and Amazon. Hallelujah!

Colombian Coconut Rice
printable recipe at bottom

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see note above)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups water

Heat coconut milk in a 2 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes.

Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Coconut rice is delicious, not too sweet, and actually works well as a side dish to meats and vegetables. In Colombia, my daughter ate it for breakfast with eggs.

And, at this point, this daughter has only been to 4 countries we’ve not been to yet, since we finally visited New Zealand and Australia in fall of 2017.


We’re catching up!

Note: When the solids separate from the oil and begin to brown, they look like crumbs. But have no fear. Once the water is added and the rice cooks, they will dissolve.

J. Kenji López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column The Food Lab, in which he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Kenji released his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, in 2015, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of a James Beard Award, and The Food Lab was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.